Cablegate: Tsunami Victims Still Need Adequate Permanent Housing

Published: Thu 4 Aug 2005 11:14 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
041114Z Aug 05
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) July 18-20, poloff visited Galle, Ambalangoda,
Ambalantota, Matara, and Hambantota to investigate the
status of tsunami relief. In meetings with various
government agents (GAs), non-governmental organizations
(NGOs), and USAID officers, interlocutors reported that
there is still a strong need for adequate, permanent
housing. Challenges to the restoration effort include: a
shortage of land, non-tsunami affected people inhabiting
temporary shelters in attempts to collect aid, inadequate
community infrastructure provided by the government, tension
between different classes, people's growing dependence on
aid, and severely decreased sales by entrepreneurs trying to
restore their businesses. However, newly created communities
of Muslims and Buddhists appear to be living together
harmoniously. Notably, the opposition United National Party
(UNP), campaigning on a platform of economic reform, is
garnering strong support amongst southern Sri Lankans who are
still struggling to rebuild after the tsunami. End summary.
2. (SBU) Poloff toured a temporary house built by
Community Habitat Finance International (CHF) and funded by
USAID. The housing consisted of a six-inch elevated, cement
foundation designed to prevent flooding and walls that
reached the ceilings of the shelters to ensure privacy. The
community housed approximately 20 families with a space of
twice each shelter's height between each home, where each
structure was built on an angle to create the effect of more
space. Each house had gutters to collect rainwater that was
transported to water filtration systems. Verandas were
being added to houses and many homes had their own vegetable
garden. Cecil Jayasooriya, an inhabitant of the camp,
stated that he was completely satisfied with the shelter
given to him.
3. (SBU) CHF officer Jim Kennedy told poloff that
communities as well-planned as the CHF camp are scarce in
the south. According to Kennedy, many of the NGOs working
in the area are providing substandard shelters, both
permanent and temporary. For instance, he explained, the
Danish People's Aid had built temporary housing without the
use of j-hooks on the roofing, causing strong winds to peel
back the aluminum sheet ceiling. Permanent housing had
roofing with a lifespan of only a few years, no sink or
shower, an unenclosed outdoor bathroom, no electricity, and
walls that did not reach the ceiling, Kennedy pointed out.
He noted that shelters are built as close together as
possible due to the scarcity of land, affording little
privacy and creating a fire hazard since many homes are
built from lumber.
4. (SBU) Using Kennedy's criteria to assess a permanent
house built in Siri Bopora by the NGO CARE, poloff noticed
that the home appeared to have some structural inadequacies
but was functional overall. The walls did not reach the
ceiling which poloff was told only had a lifespan of a few
years. However, the house did have electricity, an enclosed
(but outdoor) toilet and shower, and it followed the rule of
two heights of a house between each of the structures.
5. (SBU) Kennedy stated that one of the greatest
challenges NGOs faced was the scarcity of available land
outside the 100 meter buffer zone. According to him, NGOs
are unable to tear down the temporary housing and use the
land to build permanent shelters because Sri Lankans
unaffected by the tsunami are inhabiting the temporary
homes. In a separate meeting, Senior Superintendent of
Police (SSP) of Matara, Chandana Wickramaratna, agreed with
this assessment of tsunami relief. Buddhist monk Venerable
Gnanavisuddhi Thero of the Sri Wijayananda Pirivena of Galle
temple, also emphasized the need for adequate permanent
housing. Thero stated that if the tsunami-affected people
receive permanent homes, other problems would fade away. At
a separate meeting, Devaka Amarasena of Christian Children's
Fund (CCF) concurred that sufficient, permanent housing is
6. (SBU) Inhabitants of the CHF-funded tsunami relief camp
in Ahungalle complained that there was inadequate
transportation for tsunami victims. The Divisional
Secretary (DS) is supposed to provide busing for children,
but parent Cecil Jayasooriya explained that the bus did not
come everyday and often came an hour late. Community Leader
Aruna Jayaweera agreed that this was problematic for
children and adults alike. While the children are unable to
attend school, there is no one to watch them while the
parents look for employment. Meanwhile, the closest stores
are six kilometers away from camp.
7. (SBU) Jayasooriya also stated that he received the
5,000 rupee allowance, which the government had pledged to
provide monthly, only three times in the seven months after
the tsunami. Shopowner Barsham told poloff in a separate
meeting that he had received the allowance only two times.
8. (SBU) Goudsmith, a representative of GOAL, told poloff
that government policy with respect to the 100-meter buffer
zone and giving grants is unclear. Also, poor communication
between the central and local governments, makes it
difficult to complete relief work. Amarasena of CCF added
that government infrastructure is inadequate and there is a
need for bus stops, street signs, etc.
9. (SBU) Goudsmith also told poloff that people have become
complacent and do not feel motivated to find employment
while they are receiving aid. She stated that peoples'
attitudes towards aid ran from a continuum of initial pride
and refusal of funds, to acceptance as a loan, and finally
to demands for grants that don't need to be repaid or
accounted for. In a separate meeting, Amarasena agreed that
there is a growing dependence on aid as a means of
subsistence for the tsunami affected as well as those who
pose as victims. Goudsmith told poloff she was concerned
that tsunami victims are unaware that the assistance is
temporary and that the GOAL program in Sri Lanka is slated
to end December 2006.
10. (SBU) Wickramaratna said that there is tension between
different classes in the Matara district. For example, he
cited wealthy families' allegations of theft by the poor.
Yet the disputes are difficult to resolve since items may
have been washed away by the tsunami. The police often
confiscate the questioned items until ownership can be
determined, Wickramaratna noted. In a separate meeting,
Hanson concurred with Wickramaratna's statement. In
addition, Hanson remarked that the wealthy went to live with
their relatives following the tsunami and later return to
reap aid benefits, which fuelled the resentment of the poor
who stayed in inadequate temporary housing. Goudsmith also
told poloff that some class clashes have occurred in the
Dickwella camp of the Hambantota District. Previously
affluent people were often unwilling to take what was
offered to them by GOAL, Goudsmith observed.
11. (SBU) Poloff met with several store owners, whose
businesses were completely destroyed by the tsunami, and who
then rebuilt their shops on credit. All entrepreneurs
experienced a decrease in sales after the tsunami. Nizam of
Salile and Co. in Galle, owner of a pharmacy and accessory
shop, sells one-tenth of his pre-tsunami sales. A.R.M.
Cassim of Thoufeek and Sons and Barsham of Faizals, owners
of saree shops, have both seen a 25 percent decrease in
sales. Only Nizam has reduced his staff. He reported a
decrease in competition and is now experiencing a gradual
increase in sales.
12. (SBU) Suresh Fernando of Hambantota Trader's
Association told poloff that area tourist businesses, such
as hotels, have seen a drop of sales to approximately 30
percent of pre-tsunami income. Fernando owns the Ayurveda
Beach Resort in Hambantota, which was unaffected by the
tsunami. He explained that the hotel has managed to retain
some business by directly marketing to Germans while
emphasizing the benefits of ayurvedic (traditional herbal)
treatments. Fernando blames extensive press coverage of the
tsunami for the loss of business.
13. (SBU) Buddhist monk Thero told poloff that followers
of Buddhism seem to have become more religious since the
tsunami. The Buddhist monks held a chanting session in June
to bless the village of Galle, an annual event which few
attended prior to the tsunami, but which 100,000 attended
this year June 5-12. Also, Thero's temple housed 5,000
people of various faiths for one month after the tsunami.
14. (SBU) Amarasena noted that people are living together
harmoniously across religious lines. He told poloff that
Buddhist and Muslim children who attend a Christian
Children's Fund (CCF) school go to a nearby Buddhist temple
to pray together. Furthermore, the local staff of the CCF
is 99 percent Buddhist, Amarasena said. SSP Wickaramartna
and Goudsmith also separately told poloff that the Muslim
and Buddhist communities are living together peacefully.
15. (SBU) Fernando believes that people in Hambantota will
vote for the UNP in the next election because they are
concerned with the state of the economy and generally feel
that the UNP addresses economic issues more effectively than
other parties. Jayasooriya told poloff that he himself
voted for the UNP in the last election, and plans to vote
the same way again. He is frustrated with the current
government's inability to address the needs of the tsunami-
affected people. He added that Government officials do not
visit the tsunami relief camps and are unresponsive to the
demands of the victims.
16. (SBU) Hanson has noticed a marked decline in support
for the Marxist Sinhalese-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi
Peramuna (JVP) party. He explained that the JVP is against
foreign influence and aid from NGOs, but people affected by
the tsunami are more concerned with "bread and butter"
issues than with theoretical ideals.
17. (SBU) There is a strong need for sufficient permanent
housing, but the lack of available land poses a serious
challenge to NGOs trying to meet this demand. The growing
dependence on foreign aid will likely aggravate the
floundering regional economy since fewer people are
motivated to find their own employment. The GSL must
develop better infrastructure, communicate more effectively
with NGOs, and be held accountable for inadequacies, in
order to have an efficient relief campaign. Nevertheless,
it is encouraging that people of different religions and
ethnicities are managing to live together peacefully in the
southern provinces of Sri Lanka.
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